The Supreme Court rejected by 5 to 4 a portion of Arizona's campaign finance law that provides state matching funds to candidates who are outspent by privately funded opponents.
In a 5-to-4 decision, the justices invalidated a key part of the law that triggered state payments of matching funds for publicly financed candidates whenever their privately funded opponents outspent them.
The high court said the nearly dollar-for-dollar matching-funds mechanism violated the free speech protections of the First Amendment by deterring or diminishing the effectiveness of the speech of candidates who opt out of Arizona’s public finance system.
“The whole point of the First Amendment is to protect speakers against unjustified government restrictions on speech,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “When it comes to speech, the speaker is sovereign.”
The decision marks the third time in four years that the high court’s conservatives have invalidated campaign finance reform laws that the court found were designed to “level the playing field” among competing political candidates.
In 2008, the court struck down the so-called “Millionaire’s Amendment” that raised contribution limits for congressional candidates when facing a wealthy opponent who was using his or her own money to fund their campaign.
In 2010’s Citizens United decision, the justices struck down a law that barred corporations and labor unions from placing political advertisements during election season. Advocates justified the law, in part, as an attempt to level the playing field by preventing corporations from using their wealth to drown out other voices in the critical days before an election.
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